Palestinian farmers are struggling to harvest their olives, losing thousands of dollars due to attacks and restrictions.
Zuhdi Hassan has been cultivating his land in the Salfi government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for decades, but this year has been particularly bad for him.
Like other Palestinian farmers, the 57-year-old is facing financial problems this season.
“I have 60 olives on my land beyond the dividing wall. “Normally they produce about 18 bags of olives, but this year, after the colonists attacked, my son was able to fill only two bags of olives,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.
Farmers and their supporters in Salfit last month had to watch as Israeli settlers from Ariel’s illegal adjacent settlement cut down and set fire to hundreds of olive trees on their land. The settlers also stole olives and took the bulldozers that were used to work in the agricultural fields.
“Farmers were not able to stop the destruction and reach their land because it is on the other side of the dividing wall and the gates were closed,” said Majd Snono, a Salfit municipality spokesman.
“We called the Israeli Civil Administration to tell them what was going on, but by the time we got permission to enter the land, the damage had already been done and the settlers were gone,” Snono said.
The barrier to the partition of Israel goes beyond the internationally recognized Green Line, which separates the West Bank from Israel, with 85 percent of it being in the West Bank in areas where Israeli authorities are expropriating Palestinian land for the benefit of settlers and new settlements. .
According to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, “a key factor in determining the obstacle course was the location of the settlements.
The group says the wall acts as a “major political instrument to advance Israeli annexationist goals,” adding that it serves to annex Israel to almost 10 percent of the West Bank.
The Salfi olive oil industry brings in about $ 1.5 million each year. The olive season is not over yet, however the municipality estimates that 150 farmers have lost at least a quarter of their normal annual yield so far. By the end of the olive season next month, that loss would reach more than half of their annual yield.
About a quarter of Salfi’s population works as laborers in the olive industry and their livelihoods have also been hit hard, by the weak rains that exacerbate the problem.
Hassan said that while he was able to harvest olives from his trees on the ground in the Ad-Darajeh area of Salfi near the partition wall, the lack of rainfall affected production.
“Normally, I produce about 20 large plastic containers of olive oil, but this year I will only produce about six to seven containers,” Hassan added. “I think next year’s harvest will also be poor because of the settlers and the constant destruction of our trees.”
Salfi Mayor Abdelkarim Zubeidi said that in addition to settlers vandalizing acts, including the destruction of 500 olive trees in recent weeks, farmers have struggled to reach their lands due to severe restrictions by the Civil Administration.
“In some of the gates, the administration gives farmers very short periods of time to enter their lands and harvest olives, approximately 20 minutes three times a day, which is not enough for farmers to reach their land. prepare it and collect it. their olives “, said Zubeidi.
“Also, even when we are given specific schedules, the soldiers do not show up to let the farmers pass the gates or tell us to come tomorrow and then do not arrive on time,” said the farmer.
In a statement earlier this month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that “in addition to restrictions and ongoing violence, climate change and changing weather patterns have further deepened the crisis” for Palestinian farmers.
“The year 2020 has witnessed an extremely weak olive harvest season, with a decrease of over 55% of the harvest yield. This has been attributed to fruit rotation, along with uneven distribution of precipitation and temperature extremes during the growing cycle.
For Ahmed Maraita, a 42-year-old employee in Salfit municipality, growing his olives is an additional source of income.
His land is located in the Abdulrahman Valley area of Salfi, part of which is located near the partition wall, so he was able to enter it without trying to fit into the schedule set by the Civil Administration.
“While I have not had problems harvesting olives like those farmers on the other side of the dividing wall, the ongoing problems with the Israelis have taken away the spirit of the community and the joy of harvesting olives and families no longer reunite as they once did. “, Said Maraita, who was joined on the field by his son and mother.
Another farmer, Mahmoud Jadallah, 49, recently bought land cultivated with olive trees in the Wadi Salamah valley of Salfi. He is optimistic about his new venture.
“I have not had time to work the land and this is my first harvest, so I can not judge how much the yield should be this year,” said Jadallah, a general in the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces.
“But I believe that if you work the land and cultivate it well, you will be rewarded.”
Farmers, other village volunteers and left-wing Israeli activists have not passively viewed Israeli restrictions and tried to enter their confined fields a few weeks ago when the olive season began.
The situation ended violently when some of the activists were attacked and arrested by Israeli soldiers after they tried to cross a fenced area.
“The soldiers were very harsh and brutal with us and prevented PA officials from entering the area,” Snono said.
“They are trying to destroy the deep connection we have with our land as well as our livelihood in the hope that they can evict us,” he added.
Yet despite the constant struggle to reach their land and olive groves, the Salfi people remain challenging and determined.
“We are optimistic that in the end, the settlers will have to leave the lands they have occupied and the rightful owners will one day be able to farm freely because there is no occupation that has ever lasted forever,” said Zubeidi, the mayor. of Sulf.
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